When uAspire applied for the 2009 Social Innovator cohort, the organization, then known as ACCESS, had a $1.85 million budget and advised around 2,700 Boston high school students each year.
CEO Bob Gianinno felt strongly that uAspire’s program model was one to which more young people needed exposure. He wanted help thinking about how to build the organization and create a strategy for sustainable growth.
The peer learning experience gave me a much more robust toolbelt to address the challenges of a growing organization.
uAspire worked with its SIF consultant to shape a thoughtful two-year plan for growth that included an expansion into Springfield, Massachusetts. Together they created materials that would help uAspire engage potential investors in its work. Bob then pitched the program and its growth plan to an audience of over 300 people at the 2009 Social Innovator Showcase.
Being part of the SIF portfolio gave uAspire access to a broad network of potential supporters. Within months this increased visibility led to new funders, including a $30,000 investment from Lumina Foundation, and valuable services from in-kind partners, including over $500,000 worth of pro bono legal support from Goodwin Procter. Within the year, the program had expanded into Springfield, Massachusetts and was on a new path to accelerated growth and impact.
uAspire found the peer learning opportunities offered by participating in the cohort especially valuable. Bob enjoyed discussing the challenges of growing an organization with other nonprofit leaders and learning from their experiences. Bob credits SIF with being a “critical partner” at an important stage in the organization’s evolution. According to Bob, "The peer learning experience gave me a much more robust toolbelt to address the challenges of a growing organization."
Today, uAspire is having impact on a national scale with local operations across Massachusetts (Boston, Springfield, Lawrence, Fall River, Cambridge and Somerville) and the San Francisco Bay Area (San Francisco, Oakland and Hayward), as well as national training partnerships reaching more than 26 other states. The organization continues to produce strong results: uAspire leverages $62 in financial aid for every dollar invested in one-on-one senior college affordability advising, amounting to more than $100 million for the class of 2013. In addition, uAspire recently influenced the creation of a financial aid “shopping sheet,” produced by the United States Department of Education that will provide more clarity for students and families to compare their financial aid options.
This year alone, uAspire will serve more than 15,000 students, in grades 7-16, across Massachusetts and California and will reach an additional 100,000 young people through a mix of direct service work – on the ground and virtually – and partnerships with local, regional, and national nonprofit organizations, school districts, and charter management organizations. As uAspire continues to grow, the organization is making it possible for countless young people to afford a college education.